Being Ethan Hunt must be tough. It’s not just the death-defying stunts and the plethora of impossible feats that you’ll have to perform on a constant (daily? Weekly? Does he get Sundays off?) basis. It’s not just the convoluted, intricate espionage plans you have to always come up with.
What’s toughest is the decision-making – the split-second in which you have to decide between doing the right thing, and doing The Right Thing. One life, or a million lives? The world, or the team? Because, it would seem, that every decision he makes have huge, painful consequences he would have to live with – the fallout of his mistakes.
This is one thing to appreciate, out of many other things to appreciate, about Mission: Impossible – Fallout, the sixth instalment of a movie franchise that started out odd and divisive, before growing into a sure-footed, impeccably-produced action movie series.
What doesn’t change over its 22 years of existence is its star: a certain Tom Cruise who would pull off his own high-profile stunts that include scaling the Burj Khalifa skyscraper and clinging on to the side of a plane taking off. Like the Jackie Chan movies of old, part of the experience of watching every new M:I film is the circus-like anticipation on the next crazy stunt.
And there’s a lot to look forward to in M:I – Fallout, including a rooftop race across London and shenanigans involving helicopters. Each of us have our own Tom Cruise palate, but whether it’s sweet or revulsion, you have to appreciate this 56-year-old’s tenacity (and running form). When people tell him to “break a leg” for his art, he literally would.
“Break a leg, Tom!” “Naw, I’m not insured that way. Would an ankle suffice?”
Yet Fallout isn’t just entirely about the Cruise’s excursions, but also Ethan Hunt’s own personal demons. While the past two Mission: Impossible films were equally thrilling to watch, often I lament the lack of character conflict for the central protagonist. But instead of letting it take over the entirety of the film, like in Mission: Impossible III, Fallout finds a balance. Sometimes the stakes get personal, but the movie doesn’t.
In Fallout, Ethan Hunt is always fighting his failures. The movie starts with one: a black arms exchange gone wrong, leading to Hunt losing three plutonium cores. With the villainous Syndicate (from the previous film) plotting extremist catastrophes, the need to retrieve those cores get urgent. But the CIA isn’t so quickly comfortable with Hunt leading the hunt, leashing their top operative August Walker (played by an imposing Henry Cavill, with his Superman-ruining moustache) to his side.
DC movies have gotten even darker and angrier these days
What follows is a convoluted series of spy games and betrayals, of good plans and bad plans and plans that change on the fly. In the midst of this, however, is Hunt’s own tussle with himself. Like Homer’s Odyssey, which is alluded to at the start of the movie, his journey “home” towards personal peace is a long and arduous one. Maybe his peace will only come from suffering – which may mean that the villain’s creed that “suffering leads to peace” is right. Or does one man’s suffering means peace for everyone?
Sometimes Fallout’s massive tangle of plot and its continuity with previous M:I films threatens to overweigh the film (its 2 hours 28 minute runtime makes it the longest M:I movie yet), but most of the bog is lifted by the film’s excellent pacing and fantastic set-pieces, with action sequences that are impeccably staged, shot and executed.
Hang in there, Ethan Hunt. Things will get better
It’s in the details you may not necessarily think about. Like how the fight scenes are meticulously choreographed, and shot with little to no shaky cam. The sound effects that make ever gunshot reverberate, every car crash felt. It’s the bigger reliance on actual stunts and practical effects, and beautiful film locations. And, in the midst of this, director Christopher McQuarrie still found interesting ways to shoot the film. Few shots feel boring or rudimentary.
Some days, you watch a movie like Skyscraper and wonder if honest-to-goodness action movies have become pastiches of a bygone era. Mission: Impossible – Fallout, like Mad Max: Fury Road and Baby Driver before it, shows that the genre can still surprise and thrill. It shows that it can still transcend.